The title “Batman Ninja” tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the film you’re about to watch. In that sense, it more than delivers on its promise to have a Batman story set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan – even if the story is pretty generic. The animation and character design are very imaginative; and they flawlessly combine the Batman characters with Japanese culture, making the visual spectacle the best part of the film. Rarely has Batman looked so good. But a movie needs more than visuals.
Those that know me best know that I absolutely love Japanese culture. Set a movie in Japan and you’ll have my interest right away, especially if it’s ancient Japan. Because of that, putting Batman in this environment was enough to draw me into this 2018 film that was made by a vastly Japanese crew, albeit produced by Warner Bros. An interesting creative team came up with a fun idea and premise, for sure.
DC is known for creating interesting and fun one-off stories that don’t have to rely too heavily on the overall character lore, and “Batman Ninja” is a perfect example of it. The movie doesn’t waste any time explaining who the numerous characters that appear are, because they’re assuming that everybody watching is familiar enough with each of them so that there’s no need to establish anything (so if you need more than a second to figure out who the hell the Red Hood is, you’re out of luck here). As a Batman fan, I like this approach, but only if there’s a story rich enough to evolve these characters forward and to make it worthwhile.
Unfortunately for “Batman Ninja”, this is not a character story at all. The focus here is on the action sequences, all of which are pulled forward by a vaguely explained time travel premise that basically makes Feudal Japan a new (old?) version of Gotham City. The action is competently made and entertaining for the first two acts, but it gets excessive and mostly nonsensical by the third act.
The closest comparison I have for this movie is “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011), a movie that had a great concept expressly written in the title but that struggled with having a cohesive story and compelling characters to populate it. Concept can only drive you so far, and maybe if “Batman Ninja” had been shorter, I would’ve cut it a break. But, at 81 minutes long, it more than overstays its welcome.
Stories can either be centered around characters or plot, and this film only relies on the latter for spectacle and entertainment. This decision is probably fine because the concept is so immediately appealing, but there really needs to be a sense of consistency in any insane concept. Sadly, “Batman Ninja” does not really care about making sense so long as it’s visually interesting.
Everybody in this film is just loud and they don’t do anything interesting, which is especially annoying when there are glimpses of inspiration with characters like Catwoman or even Batman, who gets a short character moment right before the third act, but this doesn’t really resonate or pay off in any substantial way. The film sets Batman as an icon among a group of ancient samurai, but all of them appear and disappear from the film with little to no relevance. I found this extremely frustrating. There were moments where I felt this film would become somewhat similar to “The Last Samurai”, with the main character (Batman in this case) finding himself in a foreign culture and becoming an icon among its people. This idea, however, is abandoned and replaced with a climax when literally everything the writers could come up with is thrown at the screen, whether it makes sense or not. Any sense of character growth is replaced with giant robots and many other kinds of nonsense that not only feels at odds with Batman lore, but also within the story being told.
As a 10-year-old, this might’ve been my “Batman meets Dragon Ball, Power Rangers, Transformers and 20 other things” dream movie; but at 31, I need a lot more to like a film. You can prioritize spectacle and crazy ideas, but you can’t do that at the expense of everything else in your film. Perhaps this is why I sometimes struggle with liking these kinds of animated films – because I’m ultimately not the target audience anymore, and I demand more than what the film is giving me. Strangely enough, though, “Batman Ninja” is rated PG-13, so it’s probably not even meant to be watched by young children.
Ultimately, “Batman Ninja” is an exercise in excess without a coherent payoff. Notwithstanding, if all you want is action, and you don’t care if it makes sense or not because your love for the concept and for Batman is enough to carry your interest, then this just might be the film for you. For me, however, this is a 5/10 for the writers and director, but a definite 10/10 for the character designers and animators.
There’s a lot of content to stream right now, so I recommend streaming something else instead of “Batman Ninja” this time around. I have an ongoing Streaming Bucket list with Geekly Goods, so you can check my recommendations there. You can also find me at http://www.filmopinionitis.com, and @filmopinionitis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.